Is your genealogy research stalled? Try finding your ancestors in uncommon genealogy sources. #genealogy #familyhistory #ancestors
How To Trace Your Family Tree

How To Find and Research Unusual Genealogy Sources

In a previous post, I shared one of my children’s favorite television shows when they were little –  the Disney Channel’s show Out of the Box.  We all loved that show!  (I still have the theme song in my head.) Encouraged to use their imaginations, my children were soon using everyday objects to create castles and boats and forts and tea parties… get the idea.  My children were thinking outside of the box when it came to their play.

Now don’t worry.  We are not going to be researching imaginary ancestors or record sets!


We are going to think “outside of the  genealogy box” and consider unusual genealogy sources to find our ancestors.  Let’s think beyond the standard genealogy research of census records, birth records, marriage records, etc.

Is your genealogy research stalled? Try finding your ancestors in uncommon genealogy sources. #genealogy #ancestors #familyhistory
Think “Outside of the Genealogy Box”

Finding and using those “out of the box” genealogy sources will benefit your genealogy research. Don’t limit your success by only researching the traditional genealogy records.

Below I am sharing unusual or  “out of the box” genealogy sources that can be used in your genealogy research.

Tips before we get started:

  1. Get to know your ancestor well – I mean very well! – in the traditional genealogy records. Were they in the military?  Do you know their occupation? Who was important to them? Who appeared alongside them in the records? Having a good understanding of your ancestor in traditional records will help you recognize your ancestor in the more unusual record sets.
  2. When you find an “out of the box” record set, educate yourself on that unique and/or unusual record sets by reading the “About” sections on records before you begin your research.  Find out exactly what a record set contains and how the records are organized.  Also, learn about any idiosyncrasies about that particular record set. This will be a huge time saver as you research.

Unusual or “Out of the Box” Genealogy Sources 

The large databases such as, FindMyPast, MyHeritage and FamilySearch all have lots of record sets researchers do not know exist or do not think to check .  Find examples below of out of the box sources. 

These are not comprehensive lists, but rather lists to get your creative juices flowing as you start to explore unusual genealogy sources for your own ancestors.

One of the places I like to check for unusual records is the recently added records section. A quick check today on yielded the U.S., Baseball Questionnaires 1945-2005 record collection. I’m thrilled, because I do have baseball players among my ancestors.

Is your genealogy research stalled? Try finding your ancestors in uncommon genealogy sources.

Find more unusual sources by searching the card catalog in each of the databases. Search by record type (such as Schools, Directories and Church Histories) and narrow down by your state and county location.

More Unusual Genealogy Source Examples in

Is your genealogy research stalled? Try finding your ancestors in uncommon genealogy sources.

Examples of “Out of the Box” Genealogy Sources in FindMyPast

Examples of Unusual Genealogy Sources in State and Local Archives

State and local archives are full of unusual and uncommon genealogy records potentially holding clues to your ancestors.  Take time to discover what types of records your  state archives has. Check their card catalog and/or talk with an archivist. Don’t forget the online collections!

  • Merchant account records – Potential source of a merchants customers.
  • Cemetery Surveys – Potential source for family cemeteries [I found documented oral histories in these records!]
  • Road records – Potential source for placing your ancestor in time and place.
  • Records of lunacy – Potential source of individuals declared lunatics.
  • School Records – Potential source for children, school teachers and superintendents
  • Minutes for the Warden of the Poor  – Potential source if your ancestors were poor and required assistance from the county
  • Published Family Histories
Find and use uncommon and unusual genealogy records to find your ancestors. #ancestry #genealogy #familyhistory
Marshall High School, Richmond, VA (Source: Library of Congress)

Examples of Unusual Genealogy Sources  Within Your Own Family

Do not overlook possible record sources held within your own family!

Find and use uncommon and unusual genealogy records to find your ancestors. #ancestry #genealogy #familyhistory
Church Histories – An Unusual Genealogy Source of Information
  • Published family histories – Often these can be found in the local library or on your family’s bookshelf. Use these as clues and verify the information.
  • Oral histories from distant cousins. Actively seek them out!
  • Oral histories from family members with dementia.  Our family members who suffer from the unfortunate diagnosis of dementia can still offer insight into your family history.  Read tips and suggestions  for interviewing a family member with dementia.

Take time to explore unusual and “out of the box” genealogy sources. When you’ve hit that genealogy brick wall – which we all do! – thinking outside the box can jump start your research.

This post contain affiliate links.  Read my full disclosure policy here.


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Is your genealogy research stalled? Try finding your ancestors in uncommon genealogy sources. #genealogy #ancestry #familyhistory

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  • Toni Bettencourt

    I actually have a question that I hope you can answer for me or direct me to a reference that covers it.
    I have yet to find a reference that provides suggestions as to how to find your female ancestors siblings. I am, searching for my paternal grandmother’s brothers and possibly a sister. No one still living in my family knows how many siblings she had, although it is believed she had 2 brothers and maybe a sister. I believe we have her mother’s name, but not her fathers. Any ideas as to where I should start or a reference I could use?

    • LisaL

      If the correct time period, check the 1900 and 1910 census records. These both list the number of children a woman had and the number of children living. This could help confirm the number of siblings there were. Other resources might include your grandmother’s marriage certificate/record (see who witnesses were), newspapers in the area, and even church records might help. Also, since you have her mother’s name, research her thoroughly. Who did she marry (if she married)? Who appears next to her in the records? Essentially, determine possible sibling candidates and then research those individuals out. This type of research can be tough. Often there is no “one resource”. You’ll need to build your case by studying who is in the community.

  • Eddie Rogers

    Hi Lisa,

    I enjoy your helpful and informative articles. Those who do research do not think of all the various avenues one can tap into to find their ancestors.

    I wanted to let you know that I publish a weekly International newsletter and I add your helpful and informative articles to these newsletters as I receive them from you. So, you are getting more exposure.

    The newsletter covers different categories. So, there is something there for many people to tap into. Genealogy being one of those categories.

    Thank you Lisa for all you do to help us with our search for our ancestors and have a blessed day in Yeshua/Jesus.

    Eddie Rogers, Minister, D.D.

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